Vietnam scrambles to save British pilot’s life, avoid first COVID-19 death

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 14 (efe-epa).- Vietnam has managed to successfully contain the coronavirus epidemic, with just 288 cases and no deaths so far, but the latter statistic now depends on the survival of its most critical patient, a 43-year-old British pilot who is set to undergo a lung transplant as a last resource to save his life.

Doctor Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, the director of the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said earlier this week that the lung function of “patient 91” – who has spent nearly two months in the hospital without responding to various treatments – had reduced by 90 percent due to severe fibrosis.

The medical teams have decided to carry out a transplant within the next few days.

Lung transplants have already been used successfully in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease originated, for two patients with irreversible lung damage.

Soon after the announcement, two volunteers with no ties to the patient offered to donate one of their lungs: a Hanoi-based woman aged 40 and a 70-year-old war veteran who lives in the central Dak Nong province.

However, the offers were turned down due to stringent legal restrictions on donation of lungs by living people.

According to the state-run Vietnam News Agency, the woman said that she had received a lot of support from others throughout her life and wanted to donate her organ in order to “spread love” to those who needed it, while the former soldier cited patriotism as his reason for coming forward.

The veteran, who was disappointed at his offer being turned down, told a local news website that he was proud of the Vietnamese medical industry and the government’s efforts as they had taken care of everyone and nobody had died.

The rapid outpouring of support is a good example of how determined the Vietnamese government and people are about saving the patient, whose death could break the impressive zero-death statistic in a country which shares a 1400-kilometers (870 miles) long border with China and registered its first COVID-19 case as early as Jan. 23.

The country has now gone 28-days straight without a single new case and 252 of the 288 patients have already recovered, including an 88-year old woman with multiple health problems. She was discharged a week ago in Hanoi after two months of treatment during which her heartbeat stopped multiple times.

The woman’s case was the most complicated along with that of the British pilot working for Vietnam Airlines, who is surviving on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) since Apr. 2, a process which has inflated the cost of his treatment above $200,000.

ECMO extracts blood from the body, oxygenates it and removes carbon dioxide before reintroducing it in the patient’s body.

The pilot is also suffering from blood clots and problems related to the cytokine storm syndrome, an overreaction of the immune system caused by the coronavirus.

He has received media attention ever since being suspected of triggering one of the biggest infection hotspots in the country, a Ho Chi Minh City bar where at least 18 people were infected on the night of Mar. 13.

Vietnam has managed to contain the epidemic by acting early, starting in late January, through measures like closure of schools, restricting flights from high-risk regions and targeted quarantine measures, apart from an effective system of tracking possible patients.

Despite the usual opaque functioning of the communist regime, independent medical experts working with Vietnamese teams have stressed that transparency has been one of the strong points of Hanoi’s strategy and backed the official figures related to the disease. EFE-EPA


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